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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Greg Kidwell has this piece of advice for community credit unions: serving on a community Chamber of Commerce is the best way to market what your credit union does for the community. Kidwell, president/CEO of community-based Members First CU, recently began his two-year term as president of the Grandview/Marble Cliff Area Chamber of Commerce. A member of the board since 2002, he was first “recruited” to join to complete the term of the treasurer. During his term in that seat, Kidwell said the board developed a succession line that called for the treasurer to move up to vice president and eventually president of the board. “I’m the experiment child of all that,” he quipped. “I’m the first product of that plan, we’ll see how it works out.” In all seriousness, Kidwell said that a succession plan has several advantages for someone who’s sat on the board for three or four years – they get to figure out the operational workings of the chamber, and they develop an “institutional memory” of things the board did during that time that they can recall and refer to. Members First CU has $35 million in assets and approximately 6,700 members. It was chartered in 1957 as Big Bear Employees CU as a single sponsor CU – Kidwell was a former employee of Big Bear Stores Co. It changed its name to Big Bear/Members First CU in 2000 when it got a community charter, and when the store went out of business in 2003 the credit union dropped the Big Bear portion of its name. Kidwell has been president/CEO of MFCU for eight years. “Once we got our community charter, we felt the Chamber of Commerce was an excellent way for us to get involved with the community,” said Kidwell. “We were a new community credit union and needed to meet the people in the community and tell them about us.” He continued that, “As far as our charter is concerned, getting involved with the Chamber of Commerce might be the best thing we’ve ever done. The best marketing is word of mouth, and you can develop the best marketing in the Chamber of Commerce if you treat people right. You get to meet people with needs and they can become members.” Not only that, Kidwell said getting involved with the Chamber of Commerce also showed Members First CU the necessity of getting involved with offering commercial deposits and lending “because people from the community inquired.” To provide member business lending products, Members First CU joined Cooperative Business Services in Ohio, a multi-owned CUSO, about seven or eight months ago. It allows Members First CU to offer the MBL services to its members transparently. “Now we have a way to satisfy the inquiries we get from people in the community. It’s one of the best things we ever did, long term it will prove to be huge for the credit union,” said Kidwell. The Members First president estimates serving as president of the Chamber of Commerce will require “a lot of time,” but it’s something he’s become accustomed to – he used to spend a couple of hours a week on chamber business when he was treasurer and again as vice president. He realizes he’ll probably have to spend more time as president, but he said the credit union is 100% behind him. “The credit union doesn’t see any conflict with the time I’m required on chamber business. They see it as a strategic obstacle that’s been overcome, that is a community credit union being involved in its community,” he said. One of the first items on Kidwell’s `to do’ list is helping the Chamber implement a new committee structure in 2006. Five new committees will be established, each with a main area of focus for the chamber including: economic development, advocacy and public policy, member benefits, external marketing, and finance. In addition to Kidwell, two other spots on the Chamber of Commerce board are filled by bankers, both from National City Bank. Kidwell said, “We’re all fine. Discussion of the credit union and bank situation never comes up. We’re treated as equals.” He adds though that, “if you ever want to get into a situation where you work closely with bank people, then sit on your Chamber of Commerce board.” Kidwell said he’s able to apply a lot of what he’s learned about volunteerism working at Members First CU for 15 years, to his work with the Chamber of Commerce. “As president of the Chamber of Commerce you’re head of a volunteer board. So I’m able to take what I’ve learned about volunteerism over my years at the credit union and apply it to another organization,” he said. In addition to his involvement with the Chamber of Commerce, Kidwell has served on many committees with the Central Ohio Chapter of Credit Unions. He is currently on the board of that organization as well, and serves as treasurer for Friends of Hocking Hills State Park. While Kidwell is the only staff of Members First CU to serve on the Chamber of Commerce’s board, he said other CU staff are involved with chamber functions as well. Once Members First CU got its community charter, he said the credit union made the effort to join the Chamber of Commerce and become a sustaining member, as well as encourage staff to get involved. “We at credit unions have to spend so much time explaining to people what a credit union is and why it’s good for you. Serving on the Chamber of Commerce is a good way to market the credit union difference. I encourage it for all community credit unions,” he said. -

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